Last week 18-year-old singer-songwriter and producer Casey Malanuk released his second album this year (yes, this year), Short Film Season, and it quickly became a favorite at the City Paper music desk. Turns out the creator is an early graduate of Wando High School (he finished last semester), has created two impressive collections of music entirely by himself, has attended the prestigious Grammy Camp (only a few out of thousands are chosen), and is on his way to Los Angeles to immerse himself in music, leaving for the West Coast the day before this piece prints. Here's more on Malanuk's incredible story, in his own words.
On Honing His Craft
I have always been a songwriter. It wasn't until my freshman year of high school that I realized I wanted to be a producer. I wish I could say the production came as naturally as the songwriting did but that would be a little far off. I spent at least two years watching YouTube videos and reading random blogs about how to produce music. These two years were really my freshman and sophomore years in high school and every night I would come home and pretend to do homework but really just research music production. I do think I have a natural ear for music production because the minute I finish a song, I already hear in my head exactly how it will sound in a final stereo setting. I think I was just so obsessed and so interested that I picked it all up kind of quick and it all led to me being able to produce two solo records entirely by myself in my bedroom.
On Studying Music at Berklee and Grammy Camp
I have attended three Berklee College of Music summer programs, all of which helped me mature as a songwriter and a musician who can work with others. Berklee's camps are all on a sign-up basis though so it's not really a "if you're talented you should audition" kind of thing — it's more "if you want to pay for it you can come" thing.
My first eye-opening experience as a songwriter was attending the Grammy Camp this past summer. This is a highly selective camp that thousands of different high schoolers apply to every year and only 10 are picked for each category, so saying it was an honor to be there as a songwriter would be an understatement.
Growing up in Charleston, there weren't many opportunities for me as a young musician or songwriter compared to larger cities, but I think that kept me grounded during the camp experience. I met some amazing people my age who have done so many big things already. I was even given the opportunity to write a song for one of the youngest people to ever make it onto the show The Voice. They brought in Noah Cyrus and her dad so we could talk to them and get feedback on our own music in a very intimate setting. The coolest thing about this camp was the fact that I connected with so many talented musicians who aren't just in Charleston but all over the country.
In between records, I released a single called, "Glass," that I wrote with my friend Jeyhan from Grammy Camp who has a little over 70,000 followers on Instagram for his singing videos. I wrote it with him over Facetime one day and a week later, we released it as a single. I plan on releasing more singles with him and other friends I met at Grammy Camp over the next few months. I already have a lot of new art in the works, which is really exciting.
On Casey, released in January 2018
For the full story behind both records I guess I should begin with the fact that I went to Wando High School and graduated early last semester. Since my early grad, I have been working a job and making music back-to-back. During the first semester of school I was writing and preparing my debut record, Casey, because I had always wanted to create a solo project that I could be proud of. I did everything completely by myself in my bedroom with different gear that I acquired over the past few years. A good friend of mine let me borrow his guitar amp while others let me borrow pedals and plugins until I realized that I was completely in business.
When I was writing Casey, I had a completely different approach to creating the record. I wanted it to be themed but the mix of songs and genres was so eclectic that I called it a, "playlist record." When one would ask what that was I would simply define it as a record you could listen to like a playlist. The thought process behind it was because of streaming companies like Spotify and Apple Music, no one really listens to albums anymore — they just pick and choose songs and add them to an eclectic mix ... so why not be the person to create that eclectic mix for them? I also released Casey in kind of a strange way. I released one single just about every two weeks until I had nine singles out. Then I released it as a 12-song record with three extra songs no one had heard yet. Those three songs became some of my friends' favorites, and I really enjoyed keeping them a secret until the release, which is what led to the idea behind Short Film Season's release.
When Casey came out in January, I was suddenly bored. I won't lie, it's been tough getting people to take me seriously as an 18-year-old from Charleston, South Carolina who makes music. I found as an observer of other musicians that the best thing you have to show for yourself is your art. This brought me to the idea that maybe I should just take a performance hiatus and continue as a producer for a while until some interest sparks. I think I could have gigged around town a bit after my first record because there was some cool hype from friends, but honestly I think something in me wasn't ready to settle with one big release for the year as most artists and bands do.
On Short Film Season
I started writing for Short Film Season on January 7th, 2018. It wasn't until January 23rd that I decided I was going to make a second record. I know that timeline seems off but I found a voice memo from January 7th on my phone and it was a song idea I had recorded in my kitchen at midnight. When I was listening back to it, I found myself thinking that it was more of an album song than a single. This was kind of like if you only watched the last five minutes of an hour-long movie and weren't able to understand a single thing happening on the screen because you hadn't seen everything leading up to it. I quickly realized that there was so much more story to tell leading up to this one random song idea in my voice memos.
On the single, "Shortfilmseason"
The idea behind Short Film Season is an observation based on my generation. I think it's totally wild that my generation will be the first to have children who will have access to our entire lives through social media. We are documenting our lives on a daily basis so much so that my grandchildren may be able to look up and see exactly what I was thinking right now on this day just through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. This whole thought is made clear in the title track, "Shortfilmseason," where I ask questions like, "What if every minute of your life was a short film?" My favorite lyric I have written yet was in the second verse, "Budgeting your time like a crypto currency, selling yours for mine just to get off the screen." I do plan on releasing "Shortfilmseason," again as single maybe with a featured singer to emphasize the song itself.
On Short Film Season collabs
When I was writing this record, I told about seven people, and that was it. I kept a private Instagram account and journaled in it almost every week so that when I went to release the record, I could make the account public and people could read my thought process during the making of it. One of the seven people who knew about the record was my good friend, Sophie Feldman. I met her at Grammy Camp and we have been writing together ever since. She wrote the first verse of the song, "Forgetting 3," which is kind of a hard-hitting synth song and very out of character for her, which is why I asked her to help write for it. I've found that the best way to get something unique out of any writer is to make them uncomfortable and set them somewhere way outside of their homeostasis. Sophie texted me the whole first verse within the same day I sent her the song. That was pretty much the only collaboration on the record. I did have two friends of mine, Roger and Sam Ploch, sing background vocals on the song, but that's it.
On the vibe of Short Film Season
I had a friend of mine recently ask me to describe the creative order of songs on Short Film Season. I told him it's as if you walk into a party and are trying to figure out the vibe but it's all up in the air. Then you get to the title track, "Shortfilmseason," and someone hands you a beverage and a conversation and before you know it, you're listening to, "Leaving With You," and "Beach (1-7-18)," chillin' on a beach somewhere at night with your best friends. The very last song on the record is the actual voice memo that sparked the whole record. I liked how raw it sounded and how genuine it feels in its last couple seconds.
On Los Angeles and "Lost at Home"
I'm moving to L.A. next week to attend the Musicians Institute as an audio engineer for a couple of summer quarters, and I hope to hear back from colleges next week as well. All of my friends seem to have a good idea of what college they are going to but in all honesty I still have no clue. The more music I make with others and the more people I meet, the more college becomes a blur. In L.A., I plan to be writing for up-and-coming pop artists on the side and also producing my own art. I have a lot of connections there and I think L.A. feels more like home to me than Charleston ever really did, so I'm excited for this new chapter in my life to begin. I love Charleston, I just have never identified with it as a home, which is what "Lost at Home" is all about.